best athletes The Best Athletes of All Time  

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List Rules Open to all amateur or professional athletes in any sport

The greatest athletes of all time: a list of the most dominant, iconic athletes to ever play sports. This list gathers sports stars from across every professional league, as well as amateur athletes who may have never competed professionally, in one overall list. Though it may be challenging to compare performance in a variety of different competitive arenas requiring different skill sets, this list nevertheless attempts to distinguish the top, highest-performing and most successful athletes ever to play. The sports stars that rise to the top can be considered to be the best athletes of all time.

Aspects to consider in picking a best athlete of all time would include, obviously, that player's raw talent and born ability. Some individuals seem to prodigally gifted in their sport of choice, and it's hard to discount the importance of this kind of natural talent. However, it's also important to evaluate hard work, discipline and a commitment to the game. Some athletes may not have the natural, genetic ability to dunk a basketball or hit a home run, but nonetheless have trained to the point of reaching these goals all the same. (They may not be the greatest athlete of all time at all sports, but they have mastered their activity.)

Finally, it can be a challenge to compare an athlete who competed in a solo competition with a member of a well known sports organization or club. How do you look at the achievements of, say, a boxer like Muhammad Ali alongside an athlete like Michael Jordan, who had to not only perform to his own best abilities but work as a cohesive unit along with other members of his team? These are the questions that must be answered when compiling a list of the world's greatest all-time athletes.

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list ordered by

1
+ - 34,642 17,077
Michael Jordan is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

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2
+ - 31,910 16,230
Muhammad Ali is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Muhammad Ali age 75

3
+ - 20,755 15,962
Wayne Gretzky is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Wayne Gretzky age 56

4
+ - 27,823 15,094
Michael Phelps is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

5
+ - 27,174 13,477
Babe Ruth is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Babe Ruth Died at 53 (1895-1948)

6
+ - 19,791 13,772
Usain Bolt is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Usain Bolt age 31

7
+ - 16,882 17,350
Julius Erving is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

8
+ - 15,798 16,890
Paolo Maldini is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Paolo Maldini age 49

9
+ - 17,953 15,633
Pelé is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Pelé age 77

10
+ - 28,684 14,624
Lionel Messi is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Lionel Messi age 30

11
+ - 28,271 16,013
LeBron James is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
LeBron James age 31

12
+ - 23,857 16,454
Joe Montana is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Joe Montana age 61

13
+ - 23,214 14,735
Roger Federer is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Roger Federer age 36

14
+ - 15,447 13,916
Pete Sampras is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Pete Sampras age 46

15
+ - 11,422 13,235
John McEnroe is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
John McEnroe age 58

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16
+ - 16,027 14,223
Steffi Graf is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Steffi Graf age 48

17
+ - 11,343 13,155
Marco van Basten is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

18
+ - 14,779 11,360
Jack Nicklaus is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Jack Nicklaus age 77

19
+ - 15,376 11,165
Wilt Chamberlain is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Wilt Chamberlain Died at 63 (1936-1999)

20
+ - 14,393 13,556
Lorenzo Bernardi is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

21
+ - 14,675 13,455
Ruud Gullit is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Ruud Gullit age 55

22
+ - 14,256 12,789
Ingemar Stenmark is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

23
+ - 14,073 10,694
Sugar Ray Leonard is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

24
+ - 13,890 12,441
Garrincha is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Garrincha Died at 50 (1933-1983)

25
+ - 14,564 10,650
Jesse Owens is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Jesse Owens Died at 67 (1913-1980)

26
+ - 10,106 11,796
Franco Baresi is listed (or ranked) 26 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Franco Baresi age 57

27
+ - 14,225 12,999
Eddy Merckx is listed (or ranked) 27 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Eddy Merckx age 72

28
+ - 14,507 13,076
Alexander Karelin is listed (or ranked) 28 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

29
+ - 14,519 10,771
Serena Williams is listed (or ranked) 29 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

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30
+ - 13,763 12,286
Kaká is listed (or ranked) 30 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Kaká age 35

31
+ - 14,771 10,903
Magic Johnson is listed (or ranked) 31 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Magic Johnson age 58

32
+ - 14,185 12,733
Sergei Bubka is listed (or ranked) 32 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Sergei Bubka age 54

33
+ - 13,748 11,983
Johan Cruijff is listed (or ranked) 33 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Johan Cruijff age 70

34
+ - 13,865 10,524
Joe DiMaggio is listed (or ranked) 34 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Joe DiMaggio Died at 85 (1914-1999)

35
+ - 13,891 11,997
Michael Schumacher is listed (or ranked) 35 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

36
+ - 14,156 10,354
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is listed (or ranked) 36 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

37
+ - 13,951 10,410
Bill Russell is listed (or ranked) 37 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Bill Russell age 83

38
+ - 13,689 12,235
Paavo Nurmi is listed (or ranked) 38 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Paavo Nurmi Died at 76 (1897-1973)

39
+ - 13,054 10,562
Pete Maravich is listed (or ranked) 39 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Pete Maravich Died at 41 (1947-1988)

40
+ - 13,012 11,693
George Weah is listed (or ranked) 40 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
George Weah age 51

41
+ - 14,173 10,789
Mike Tyson is listed (or ranked) 41 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Mike Tyson age 51

42
+ - 13,248 11,676
Rod Laver is listed (or ranked) 42 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Rod Laver age 79

43
+ - 13,514 11,954
Paula Radcliffe is listed (or ranked) 43 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

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44
+ - 13,081 11,439
Nadia Comăneci is listed (or ranked) 44 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

45
+ - 12,881 10,084
Rocky Marciano is listed (or ranked) 45 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Rocky Marciano Died at 46 (1923-1969)

46
+ - 12,640 10,377
Walt Frazier is listed (or ranked) 46 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Walt Frazier age 72

47
+ - 13,153 11,495
Franz Beckenbauer is listed (or ranked) 47 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

48
+ - 12,363 11,181
Zico is listed (or ranked) 48 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Zico age 62

49
+ - 13,038 10,330
Carl Lewis is listed (or ranked) 49 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Carl Lewis age 56

50
+ - 12,442 11,144
Djalma Santos is listed (or ranked) 50 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Djalma Santos Died at 84 (1929-2013)